Neighborhood Spotlight: Bucktown & Wicker Park

Sitting at Killer Buzz on Damen Avenue with Mike Opyd of the Matt Laricy Group, pondering Bucktown and Wicker Park. I think the two names give the proof that it is a bit of a schizophrenic neighborhood.

“Wicker Park from the start has really been the driver of the neighborhood. Bucktown developed along with it; in its wake,” he said. “Wicker is youthful, upbeat, artsy. Bucktown is quieter, with humbler houses, more multi-unit dwellings.”

Mike Opyd
The Matt Laricy Group

Bucktown is the northern half, a triangle bordered by the river on the east side, Western Avenue in the north, and the 606 in the south. Wicker Park is the chunk south of Bucktown, from Bloomingdale to Division and Ashland on the east. The Division Blue line is the unofficial cut-off on the east side.

“People have heard of Lincoln Park, so when they move here, that’s often where they start looking,” Mike said. “And Lake View. “The lake is the main attraction.”

“People get turned onto Wicker Park after starting to look,” he continued. “Once people see the opportunity to buy and the amazing things going on in Wicker Park, Ukrainian Village, and West Town, the west side is where they go now.”

Hot in the city

That, he says, is primarily driven by real estate. “You used to be able to get something nice in Lincoln Park (1 bed, 1 bath for $250K), the average starter home on the lakeside. Meanwhile on the west side, you could grab a 2-bedroom, 2-bathroom with a garage for the same price. Same price range, better stuff,” he said. “And access to the expressway.”

“Lincoln Park is always a bit more. They have special zoning for a few bigger lots in Lincoln Park, so you can have a mansion on the lake if you want, for $20[million].”

The average “manse” in Lincoln Park retails more realistically for around 3 million. Whereas, “in Wicker Park and especially West Town edge, 1 to 2 million is still your ballpark,” Mike said. “Especially West Town.”

Prices in Lincoln Park remain in a different galaxy—nowhere in WP are there $30-million dollar homes. But Wicker Park ain’t cheap. There’s very little on the market at any one time in either Bucktown or Wicker.

“As always, it’s hot. Bidding wars, places selling right away, especially for penthouses, rooftops with garden or patio, and duplex downs, which is a 2-flat, the main floor, and downstairs. Recently I had one place overbid by $20,000.”

This is if they’re updated, I asked? “Yes, most of the old stuff is gone. If it’s being updated, it’s usually developers or flippers.”

“Many people will do some work on it to get it to a more modern style before they sell,” he said. The trend is now toward white or light cabinetry, and light marble islands with a dark base. “That gets it to that $400 to 600,000 range.”

The median home price in Wicker Park is around $450K, but there are still deals, too, such as condos listing near $200,000. Considering the rent for living there (median rent is around $2,000 a month for a nice 2-bedroom, after a big jump in 2012), and the solid yearly growth in home prices (6 percent last year) it’s a good place to buy if you can swing it.

Living is easy

I have friends who refuse to live anywhere but Wicker Park, and I get it. You walk out your door, find something to do within a block. The Double Door, the Subterranean, jazz on Division, galleries on Milwaukee, bars everywhere, James Beard award-winning restaurants, cheap tacos.

In summer, festivals up and down the streets: Bucktown Arts Fest, Do Division and Wicker Park Fest. The 5 corners are the only area of Chicago I can think of that has something of the unique distinction of being up all the time. Go there any time of the day or night, and people are out and about.

There’s music every night on Division and Damen, where Lincoln Park denizens commingle with hipster artists and weirdos who live in the area and live on nothing. Funny thing is, all kinds of people around the neighborhood eventually find themselves in certain bars, and this motley crew provides the dramatic tension that makes the neighborhood, though thoroughly run its gentrification course, still edgy and fun.

Taking a turn about the neighborhood, I could see why it’s a quick sell in Wicker Park. It’s gorgeous. Its tree-lined streets feature some of the most beautiful homes in Chicago.

One of the last bricked streets, Concord Place was recently paved over, but that hidden street still has old courtyard style buildings with stable entrances from the pre-fire period a (Chicago geologic age). St. Mary of the Angels is the stupendous cathedral anchors the northern corner of Bucktown. There’s beer baron row on Hoyne, and around the corner, strange and beautiful German architecture from the late 1800s (with too on-the-nose décor and paint jobs).

“Now Wicker Park is really the place for young people starting out, just married, maybe. They still like to go out, but also like the area for a whole other set of reasons,” Mike said. “The location and the state of real estate are two things, but just the beauty of the neighborhood is huge in winning people over.”

Ask anyone, you get a litany: Bangers and Lace, 50/50 club, Stan’s Donuts, Piece (craft beers),Timbuktu (bike share!), Lululemon (free yoga classes), WP athletic club, Wicker Park! Flash Taco, Links Tap Room, a million cafes, Streets Café, Big Star, 826 CHI, The Den Theater, Violet Hour, Danny’s, Phyllis, and on and on.

Bucktown used to have stables where Polish immigrants kept goats. A male goat is a buck. As Wicker Park was always more bustling, the name seemed to stick for sleepy “Bucktown.” (That may be apocryphal).

Emily Johnson

Emily Johnson is a writer, researcher, editor, and publishing consultant with a decade of learning in the field. For Truepad she covers real estate trends and develops knowledge base articles that help people learn about the process of buying as they’re looking for a home. She went through the process herself two years ago and is a proud homeowner in Logan Square.

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